David Hochman
February 04, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

It seems almost quaint now. The geeky teenagers sitting around quoting lines from Friday the 13th. The high school principal with the uncanny resemblance to Fonzie. The knife-wielding killer so plagued by self-esteem issues that he insists on wearing a dorky ghost mask. Even though it’s been just over three years since Scream first came banging at Hollywood’s back door, the movie is starting to take on the air of an old Halloween costume wrapped up in mothballs. “I feel like we did the original Scream 12 years ago,” says Courteney Cox Arquette, who has starred in Scream, Scream 2, and the forthcoming Scream 3, which opens Feb. 4. “So much has happened since then.”

So much, it’s almost scary. In 1996, Scream revived the teen horror movie, a genre that had been dead for nearly a decade, and raked in $174.8 million worldwide. A year later, Scream 2 did equal business and ignited a knockoff explosion that will be remembered forever in the movie industry as the “I Still Know What Disturbing Behavior You and the Bride of Chucky Tingle Did With Your Idle Hands Last Summer” era. As it took off, Scream launched the career of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, freed director Wes Craven from the bowels of movie horror (the 60-year-old Nightmare on Elm Street creator used the clout he won from the success of the Scream films to direct last year’s Music of the Heart), and jacked up the hip quotient for a generation of bloodthirsty young actors — Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Liev Schreiber, Jada Pinkett, and Rebecca Gayheart. Not to mention Cox and David Arquette, who met while working on Scream, got engaged after Scream 2, and were married by Scream 3.

So why not leave well enough alone and ditch the Scream machine before that nasty ghost-masked Ginsu freak comes crawling back a third time? “Resolution,” says Craven. “We always knew we’d need a third and final act to wrap up all the loose ends. Three is where the whole story has always been heading. Three is where we find out what happens to everybody.” Miramax co-chair Bob Weinstein adds, “We’re going out in high style, I promise that. The people who’ve seen Scream 3 are saying it’s scarier, funnier, and far more surprising than the last two. It’s an amazing end of an amazing ride.”

It’s certainly been an amazing ride for Miramax. Scream, a scary movie that made merry with unexpectedly hip, pop-culture-savvy references to the cliches and excesses of its slash-happy Hollywood predecessors, has become a dead-serious franchise for Miramax’s Dimension Films division. “It’s weird,” says David Arquette, who plays Scream‘s dopey deputy, Dewey Riley. “In a way, we’ve kind of become the sort of movie we’re spoofing. We became an institution, we became a part of the horror-movie tradition.”

The trouble is, young moviegoers don’t seem to have much patience for traditions these days. The teen horror boom that Scream ignited, for example, promptly went bust. The combined box office efforts of Disturbing Behavior, Idle Hands, Bride of Chucky, John Carpenter’s Vampires, The Rage: Carrie 2, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle wouldn’t outperform either of the Scream movies, which individually made just over $100 million domestically. And at the same time, Scream’s “new” approach to horror has been replaced unceremoniously by a newer new approach to horror, wherein bewitched student filmmakers get hopelessly lost in the woods and a creepy 8-year-old can see dead people. In the wake of The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense, the arrival of a third Scream seems about as novel a horror concept as killing off the ditzy blond babysitter who says “I’ll be right back.” In fact, Miramax itself has shot a Scream parody, called Scary Movie, that opens March 31. Jenny McCarthy was a possible lead — until the real thing beckoned, and she joined the cast of Scream 3 instead.

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